Edmonton business leader receives honorary degree for championing women in industry and entrepreneurship
Growing up, Angela Armstrong had a passion for fighting for the underdog. Then, she became one herself by blazing a career path to where few women had gone before.
After graduating from the University of Manitoba in 1986 with a degree in psychology with a minor in criminology, Armstrong had her sights set on becoming a lawyer.
“I had a real passion for justice and a kind of rightness in the world,” she says. “Being a voice for those whose voices aren’t always heard appealed to me.”
Law isn’t where Armstrong would end up, but she’d never lose sight of the need to champion those who need it. Instead, her career path – made possible largely because of her curiosity and determination – would lead to entrepreneurship. Today, as the founder and president of Prime Capital, a national financer for companies looking to lease equipment, Armstrong also works to remove barriers for women seeking to go places in industry, be it in trades or business.
“I’ve been in this industry over 30 years ago and the board table looks much the same today,” she says. For her efforts to change that, and her own success as a pioneer in her industry, NAIT has awarded Armstrong an honorary Bachelor of Business Administration degree.
Driven by curiosity
Armstrong has been innovative since her early years. The daughter of a navigator and later decorated military attaché for the Canadian Armed Forces and a mother with a master’s in library sciences, she had a strict upbringing that led her to be creative about getting out of the house with friends during the week, so she joined Junior Achievement (JA). That experience gave her a taste for business.
Serendipity helped develop it further. Before entering law school, Armstrong reconnected with a business mentor from those JA days. He invited her to work with him in finance at National Leasing Group instead. She agreed to try it for a year and then go back to school if it wasn’t for her.
“I knew nothing about finance,” says Armstrong. “Everything I learned, I learned on the fly, but it was that curiosity that drove me.”
Armstrong stayed with the company for 14 years, eventually becoming a young branch manager with little experience and lots of commitment.
When Armstrong left the company ready for her next adventure, a friend suggested she start her own leasing company. It was uncharted territory for her, but Armstrong’s inquisitive nature inspired her to ask questions such as “Why not?” and “What if?”
In 2000, she founded Prime Capital. She is a pioneer in the lease and finance industry – the first female board chair of her industry association and still one of very few female board members.
“You’ll never know everything that you need to know but you have to be ready to go anyway,” Armstrong says.
Never afraid to fail, always ready to succeed
Armstrong’s parents raised her to not be afraid to fail, but to see it as an opportunity for growth. Today, she imparts that same philosophy to the people she mentors.
She recalls other women telling her they hadn’t envisioned there being room for women in leadership in the lease financing industry. But the corporate board table isn’t the only place where she has worked to introduce the perspectives and talents of women.
Armstrong has been a dedicated advocate, director and board chair of Women Building Futures, an organization that helps underemployed women pursue careers in the construction trades. She is also a strong supporter of those who may be new to the business world through work with NAIT’s Mawji Centre for New Venture and Student Entrepreneurship.
No matter the situation or setting, she believes the same tenets apply. “Just because you don’t see yourself, doesn’t mean you couldn’t be there. You’re never going to know until you try.”
The result, Armstrong believes, is a ripple effect of inspiration in which other women see role models in action – role models who were not afraid to ask the question of “What if?”
“Let me try and fail,” says Armstrong, who continues to live by her own advice today. “My guardrails are that I know most of what I need to know. What I don’t know, I can get to. I didn’t want to be the woman that had an opportunity to do this role but didn’t.”